2 Jul 2016

APF Bangkok 4.0 Workshop

APF Bangkok 4.0 workshop
1 A couple of years ago, as I was trying to get a bit more serious in my photographic development,
I joined my first workshop, held by the APF collective in Bangkok (see the chronicles of that
experience here). Fast forward 2 years and another workshop by APF was going to take place in
Bangkok again and, for several reasons (one of them being that I had been quite dormant in
photographic terms for the past year and a boost to my motivation and inspiration was needed), I
thought this would be a great opportunity for me to join them once more, since my previous
experience had been such an eye-opener. Same mentors, different theme, new colleagues to
meet: nothing could go wrong and, spoiling the final revelation, nothing did, tough in unexpected
ways, as I will explain below
A couple of years ago, as I was trying to get a bit more serious in my photographic development, I joined my first workshop, held by the APF collective in Bangkok (see the chronicles of that experience here). Fast forward 2 years and another workshop by APF was going to take place in Bangkok again and, for several reasons (one of them being that I had been quite dormant in photographic terms for the past year and a boost to my motivation and inspiration was needed), I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to join them once more, since my previous experience had been such an eye-opener. Same mentors, different theme, new colleagues to meet: nothing could go wrong and, spoiling the final revelation, nothing did, tough in unexpected ways, as I will explain below.

Red world, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Double mirror, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Triple mirror, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Last year was a transition for me in the photographic side of things, coming from 2 very active and rewarding years somehow I felt I had reached a plateau and there was nothing ahead of me to keep me motivated like before. Had my skills peaked? Had my inspiration faded? Had my enjoyment of photography abandoned me? Or was it gear disinterest? Probably a bit of all those reasons came together and, for the most part of a full year, my camera remained untouched, my blog receiving less attention, my eyes losing their interest in their surroundings. And then this workshop was announced; I must admit I had to fight with my own laziness, but something inside me said I had to take this chance and end this drought once and for all and, luckily, I did just that.

Ice and clouds I, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm 
Ice and clouds II, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Ice and clouds III, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Ice and clouds IV, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Ice and hands, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
The workshop was labeled under the topic 'visual storytelling', or photographic narrative, something that has always interested me as a link between words and images, two different languages that bond together quite well. I don't mean that images need captions or explanations to be understandable (quite the opposite), or that images complement words adding layers that would be otherwise impossible to explain: both languages are completely independent, but a marriage of both where the two of them stay at the same level is also possible, and this conjunction is what I have been trying to do in this blog since the beginning: words that visualize, images that speak, both autonomous yet coexisting together to show different sides of the same reality. The theme of the workshop, therefore, couldn't have been more appealing to me.

Ice and clouds V, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Ice and clouds VI, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Ice and clouds VII, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Ice and clouds VIII, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
I was unable to deliver what was requested from me in the different exercises the workshop was structured around, however: I failed in my assignments and I lacked focus and clarity of ideas, yet I didn't feel discouraged or scolded for that anyway; at the contrary, these detours were necessary for me to understand what was missing, and so the three mentors pointed it out for me, always with a positive approach that really helped me see things with new eyes and with a much needed perspective. All pride disappeared from me and there were no ill feelings, regrets or self-indulgence left, only a sincere will to listen, reflect and analyze remained. Probably that was the only way this could have worked for me, because it slowly penetrated my conscience and shook off the rust that I had been accumulating without noticing to the point of paralyzing my desire to take pictures.

Greasy transparency, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Three legged, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Three waiting, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Now, after the workshop has ended and some time has passed, I can see very clearly what I was lacking before, and what the workshop brought me back: I didn't learn anything new (from a technical or theoretical point of view) nor my pictures during those three days were specially memorable (much less than the ones I took two years earlier, lacking definition and feeling), but I feel happy nevertheless, because that was not the most important thing I could have achieved that weekend, but something else: it helped me remember why I like photography in the first place, it gave me a stimulus to go back in track and recover all I had lost due to laziness and disillusion. What a different experience this was! Despite not being able to create anything of much value, I felt so excited and encouraged about photography once more, that the material results didn't matter much and I was, once again, willing to go out with my camera for the sole sake of taking pictures!

Painting and reality I, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Painting and reality II, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Painting and reality III, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
Painting and reality IV, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
APF gave me direction and focus, isn't that a more precious gift than taking a handful of worthy images without enjoying the process? It definitely is to me, and I'm sure the joy will eventually bring back the satisfaction (along with the practice), and I'm eager to start walking the streets again to recover what I had lost. For this I must thank everyone in the workshop, without whom I would probably still be wandering in the mist.

10 Jun 2016

Return to Sangkhlaburi II: the Mon village

Despite being overshadowed by Saphan Mon (as I showed in the previous post), Sangkhlaburi has actually many other interesting places that are well worth a visit and that are just a few minutes walk (or boat ride) away. One of them stands out in particular for its eerie location and the circumstances that surround it: the sunken temple, called Wat Saam Prasob. The temple (although in fact there are 3 different buildings), submerged partially under the waters when construction of the Vajiralongkorn Dam (formerly known as Khao Laem Dam) was completed in 1984, is the only remaining proof of the old Sangkhlaburi town that spread around it. Depending on the time of the year, the temple emerges from the waters completely (such as it was now, in the dry season) or just barely (after the end of the monsoon season, as in my previous visit).

The hole, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
A sunken temple emerges, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Meander, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Then there is the Mon village itself (Baan Wangka), which stretches on the slope of the hill, across Saphan Mon. Almost everyone living in this part of town is Burmese of Mon ethnicity, and walking its narrow, steep streets is a trip to another culture altogether. Life flows at a much slower pace here and, in the sunny hours of the afternoon, a sedated calm permeates the streets and bridges, the huts and houses, as if no one was living there at all. But there are always traces of human presence left behind, and a stroll around the winding roads at this fierce hours is an exercise on loneliness and limited encounters, feelings I also experienced while walking at night through the deserted, dimly lit roads.

Noon desertion, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Forgotten, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Animal audience, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Trash collectors I, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Trash collectors II, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Boss or customer?, GM1 + Panasonic Leica 15mm
There are, however, 2 groups of people that seem to populate the village in copious numbers and it's not difficult to cross paths with any of them while walking aimlessly through town: monks/nuns and kids. Pink and saffron robes appear and disappear faster than one would expect in any direction, giving color and character to the village, and reminding us how deeply ingrained Buddhism is in the people and cultures of Thailand and Myanmar.

Pink ensemble, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Banister rest, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Mundane chores, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Kids are seemingly everywhere you go in Mon Village: climbing trees or playing in the sun while everyone else is dozing, laying at the doors of the temple or eating in the shade of a porch, chasing chicken or watching loud TV, doing chores or getting ready to earn some money to support their families. Yet all of them have something in common that greets the traveler as soon as he or she enters their visual field of view: an innocent curiosity and a pure smile that stays in the mind longer than any photograph.

At home, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The swing, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Siblings, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The gong ringer, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Charming shyness, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Thanaka painters, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Brotherly love, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
But a trip to Sangkhlaburi is never complete without visiting its most renowned temple: Wat Wang Wiwekaram, which sits atop the hill, far past the village and surrounded by a conspicuous forest. This was my second incursion in the temple grounds after my first visit, two years back, but it felt as it I had never been there before, for I had the luck to see a scene that I did not witness in my first visit and that totally grabbed my attention: the temple dormitory, totally deserted last time I was there, was this time brimming with kids, all grouped by age in different corners of the long, dark hall, attending lessons by the monks, who commanded respect and attention and kept the whole building ordered and quiet. Only a few novices, older than the others, escaped this control, and gathered, hidden in the nooks of the vast building, chitchatting, eating, checking their phones, smoking. I tried to disturb as little as I could while absorbing everything that was happening around me, and time flew as fast that, all of a sudden, I realized I hadn't had lunch yet and afternoon soon would become evening, so I slowly walked away while the tunes of the students faded in the distance, refusing to let go of me. 

Lessons in the temple I, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Taking attendance, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Lessons in the temple II, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
Playful silhouette, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The light shines in I, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm
The light shines in II, GH3 + Panasonic Leica 42.5mm